Penny stares at Ty. She realizes her mouth is hanging open and she clicks it shut.
“The third disappearance? In what? Ten years? Twenty?”
“In a year.”
“What?! Who else has disappeared? No one else has disappeared.”
“No one who lives here.” Ty looks away, “But they are disappearing. Runaways. Travelers. People who want to stay in the shadow or plan on leaving soon.”
“Then how do you know they are disappearing? Maybe they are hiding. Or left. Like you said, they do not plan to stay long.”
“Come with me.”
Ty stands up and makes his way to the backroom. After a moment’s hesitation, Penny follows.
The room is what she expected it. Shelves filled with supplies for the coffee shop. A small kitchen for making and keeping food stuff fresh. What she did not expect are three clear tubs holding bags. Closer inspection reveals that all three bags hold something. And all three bags are well used.
Ty taps the last tub. A green hiking bag sits in it. A small red feather adorns the handle. Penny feels her heart freeze in her heart. She kneels next to the container. Her hands run along the edge of the lid. Part of her way wants to hold the bag. The other part of her wants to run away.
“Do you recognize it?”
“I thought she got rid of it,” Penny says quietly. “The day she came home. The day we adopted her. She had this bag with her. She would not let it out of her sight. No matter where she went we could not get her to let that bag go. I did not realize what that bag held until the first time I have her a gift. A little gas station necklace. She put it in this bag.” Penny chokes with emotion, “When she left the bag in her room and came down to dinner. I knew she felt at home.”
Penny feels tears falling down her face. She forgets about her quest and the anger. All she feels is the hurt of losing her child. All she wants is to hold her baby again.
Penny sniffles and reigns in her emotions. “I’m sorry, Tyler.”
Ty pats her on the shoulder. “I understand. I… I wish things were not like this.”
“Me too. Where did you find this? And why are these bags here?”
Ty winces, “This was with Chloe the last time I saw her.”
Penny stares at him, “What?”
“The reason why I know people are disappearing is because they came here for a bit to eat and some water or coffee. The bag on the end belonged to a boy and a girl. Siblings who were running. The middle one belongs to a young man walking home because he lost everything. Including himself. He said he was going to find himself on the way home.”
“Each bag appeared in my alleyway in a dumpster. Someone on the move with their entire livelihood would not just abandon their bags. Not without good reason.”
“Tyler. You are not just saying these people are disappearing. You are saying they are being murdered.”
“No I, am not. There are no bodies.”
“Have you seen any of them after they disappeared?”
“Than they died.” Penny stands up with fire in her eyes.
“No no no! All you know is that something happened to them.”
Penny marches out of the backroom and heads for the door. Ty groans and chases after her.
“Stop! Do you not understand that someone is willing to make people disappear? How many others have vanished? For how long?
“Then I need to find out. And put a stop to it.”
Without warning the front window shatters. Penny drops to the floor. A second later, she hears Ty hitting the floor behind her. The woman risks a peek to see who is attacking. Outside a black car begins to move. Several bright flashes from within the car matches the sudden appearance of small craters in front of her.
Penny ducks back down. Her breathing becomes ragged as more bullets create craters. Glass shatters all around her.
Penny shuts her eyes and covers her head with her arms. She feels the sting of wood chips on her arms.
A deep bass boom thunders.
Tires squeal and an engine rumbles.
A few moments later the engine fades away. The sound of glass crunching underfoot causes Penny to look up.
A man holding a rifle and wearing a white apron carefully picks his way.
“Are you okay ma’am? The police are on their way here.”
“I’m fine.” She turns, “Ty?”
Her stomach folds in on herself. Ty lies on his back. His face frozen in a mixture of shock and resignation. Three craters break his chest. Dark red blood flows from the wounds. The liquid covers his chest and forms a red pool under his shoulders.
“Stop! Don’t come in here!”
Penny tears her eyes from the gruesome death. The man with the gun holds out a hand to stop a teen girl from entering.
In the distance, the wail of sirens shatters the night.
Joseph slams on the brakes as a police officer waves for him to stop. He jumps out of his car.
“I’m Joseph– I’m looking for my wife!”
“Hi Joseph! Please follow me. Mack! Cover my zone!”
“Will do, Ann!” Another officer yells back.
Joseph follows the first officer. She threads through the emergency vehicles and other officers. Here and there, a reporter takes a photo of the scene. A growing crowd of neighbors begin to gather around the scene.
The sight of the shattered glass and ruined store front punches Joseph in the gut. The white sheet covering a body almost brings him to his knees. Members of the local news stations begin arriving. He can even see a news van parking at the end of the street.
He whirls towards the source.
Penny sits on the edge of a bus. A blue blanket is draped over her body. Joseph rushes to her. She meets him halfway. For a moment, they just hug each other. The world around them vanished. He can feel his wife shaking in his arms.
“Are you okay?” He asks quietly.
“No. No I, am not alright.” She takes a deep breath and sniffles.
“Ty. He said he had something to tell me. About what happened. I came. We talked. Then I was about to leave when the window shatters. I hit the deck.” Her voice chokes, “Then I find out that Ty died. He was murdered.”
Joseph closes his eyes.
“Are you hurt?”
“No. But… Do you remember the backpack Chloe always had with her when she first came to live with us?”
“Yeah?” Joseph frowns in puzzlement by the question. “What does this have to do with… with what happened tonight?”
“Because he has her bag here. And he said she had it with her the night she disappeared. Joseph. Someone is doing something. And Chloe got caught in the middle of it. You can hear for yourself. I made recordings.”
Joseph’s mind whirls at the news.
“I already gave the police a copy.” She begins to pull away. “I need to see what was in that bag. Why she kept it. What the other bags held.”
“No.” Joseph guides his wife to the back of the ambulance. “You rest right now.”
“But Joseph– this is important! If what Ty told is true, then there is something more going on in this town.”
“No. You need to sleep and rest.”
Penny glances over and she sees a body bag being rolled out of the store. She covers her mouth. Cameras snap off.
“Tomorrow.” She whispers in agreement.
“Yes?” He answers. He recalls that her name is Ann.
“Chief wants to talk to you. Make sure that we have everything for the records.” She eyes the shadows on the street, “And we’ll send an officer home with you.”
“With us?” Penny says in alarm.
“Yes, ma’am. We don’t know who was gunning for who. This is just a precaution.”
“I understand.” Joseph says quietly.
The blank look on Penny’s face tells him that she had not realized how much danger she is in. Joseph draws her into a warm hug. Penny leans into him for comfort.
As Joseph turns to find the police officer in charge, he notices two teens. They stand in the shadow of trees. Unlike other bystanders, they watch the proceeding in silence. The boy nudges the girl. Together, they retreat down the street.
“I know. No one knows what is happening in this town.”
Talon and Ash disappear down the street. They duck down a dark street and pause in a crowded alleyway. Both listen to the now distant sirens. A car passes nearby but the vehicle does not turn towards them.
“I think we are safe.” Ash says.
He hears the anger in her voice, “I know. I know. Our witness was gunned down.”
“You could feel it too, couldn’t you?”
“He has, had, one of the stones.”
“We have to get it.” She sighs, “But how? The place is crawling with humans.”
“I know.” He wrinkles his nose, “But what can we do?”
Ash glances at him.
“No.” He says as he recognizes the look, “We are not going to make trouble. There is enough attention here thanks to the woman Penny.”
Again, Ash sighs. She glances in the general direction of the crime scene, “Speaking of Penny. What did you learn today?”
“You were right. The mayor does know something but her behavior, pushing investigations, elaborate security measures, and such, indicates that she is afraid of someone. Or something. We need to corner her and find out.”
“That will be difficult. She seems to know there is more to the world than the humans think.” Ash breaks into a grin, “I can get by the wards though.”
“Good.” He scratches his chin, “I think we need to go make visit.”
She flashes a small smile, “I like this idea. I’m ready to kick some heads.”
“Ash. You need to keep your temper in check.”
As they turn to leave, a vehicle turns the corner and enter the alleyway. The girl and the boy squint in the harsh light. They raise their hand to block the light. Talon and Ash take a few steps back. A door opens. The outline of a man can be barely seen.
White light explodes from the car, knocking both teens to the ground.
A ringtone sings out.
“Hello?” A moment of silence, “Witness killed. Both subjects captured. Returning now.”